While the average price of a new car has been rising along with the cost of a gallon of gas, there are family-friendly 2012 models top-rated for safety and fuel efficiency, with a base price under $20,000. Even fully loaded with all the bells and whistles I call “creature features,” the following quartet still performs for under $25,000.
Ford Focus has been a top-seller in Europe, and the 2012 version for North America retains the sporty, Euro-style driving dynamics. As I wrote on ecoXplorer, The 2012 Ford Focus has a peppy 2.0 liter, 160 hp inline four-cylinder engine, and is certified at 40 mpg highway and 28 mpg city with the Super Fuel Economy package. In addition to the popular hands-free Sync and MyFord Touch technology, you can add on Ford’s automated parking assist, which literally parks the car for you. The Focus also has a top safety rating from IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)
In less than two years since it was introduced, the Chevrolet Cruze is now Chevy’s best-selling model around the world. It’s the only car in its class with ten standard airbags, plus stability and traction control, and a choice of fuel-efficient 138 hp four-cylinder engines, including an exhaust-driven turbocharged version, that get up to 39 mpg city and 42 mpg highway. That makes the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco the most fuel-efficient, gas-powered, non-hybrid car in America. A five-star safety rating from NHTSA and a top IIHS safety rating make Cruze a great choice as a family sedan.
The 2012 Honda Civic is a redesigned, ninth-generation model for this perennial favorite – nearly nine million Civics have been sold in the USA since its launch as a 1973 model. The new design has more interior room, including trunk space. Also new is an ‘eco assist’ system to help drivers improve fuel efficiency, which already is an impressive 28/39 mpg with an automatic transmission. An advanced 140 hp, 1.8 liter engine is standard, or upgrade to the performance oriented 201 hp, 2.4 liter engine, most often ordered for the sporty coupe, rather than the sedan. The Civic also is available as a hybrid, but that’s over the $20,000 threshold here.
The 2012 Mazda 3 includes the first use of the brand’s all-new, fuel-efficient, performance-oriented SKYACTIV technology, which delivers up to 21% better fuel economy than other engines. The 155 hp, 2.0 liter engine produces 28 mpg city, 39 mpg highway with the six-speed automatic transmission, and, surprisingly for a performance model, slightly less with the six-speed manual. The 3 is Mazda’s best-selling model, available as a sedan or five-door hatchback.
Sure, you could spend $50,000 on a new sedan or hatchback, but why, when there are excellent choices at half that much? Or less.